Nothing like an Old Fool; Lesson in Love: Ben Kingsley Plays Penelope Cruz's Professor

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 7, 2008 | Go to article overview

Nothing like an Old Fool; Lesson in Love: Ben Kingsley Plays Penelope Cruz's Professor


Byline: DEREK MALCOLM

Elegy Cert 15, 112 mins ***

STOP worrying about growing old and start worrying about growing up," says Dennis Hopper's poet to Ben Kingsley's wracked academic lion in this tale of older men falling for much younger women, which is adapted by Nicholas Meyer from Philip Roth's short novel, The Dying Animal.

The younger woman in this case is Consuela (Penelope Cruz), the daughter of Cuban ?migr?s. She is the student of David (Kingsley), a man who has hitherto prided himself on being able to seduce his women young and old without getting too involved and is now well and truly smitten.

David doesn't know what's happened to him but he gradually understands that there's a giant change taking place within. He is still capable of going on television and producing enough wit and wisdom to satisfy his fellow academics but his vulnerability grows when faced with Consuela and the inescapable fact that she might simply admire rather than love him.

She, on the other hand, takes everything as it comes, until she is forced by misfortune to plumb the depths of his love..

Made by the Spanish director Isabel Coixet and shot by Jean-Claude Larrieu, her regular collaborator, Elegy lays itself open to the charge that its story is essentially banal and its central character hardly worth the trouble of worrying about. It is a little too smooth for its own good. But Kingsley's carefully modulated performance succeeds in making us feel more sorry for him than we might have for Roth's original protagonist even if David's obsessive regard for himself remains as apparent as it was in the novella.

There's nothing grandstanding about Kingsley's portrait but the quiet concentration of his playing is as impressive as anything he has given us since the quite different Sexy Beast.

Hopper, too, is surprisingly apt as George, David's poet friend, a part which for once doesn't call for the pyrotechnics we all know he can do so well.

He gives advice but is himself quite willing to taking anything that comes along as far as sex is concerned. It is his theory that the more attractive a woman is, the more invisible the rest of her becomes. …

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